Family bonds are twisted and broken in Jordan’s meditation on the fallen South.
Debut novelist Jordan won the 2006 Bellwether Prize for this disquieting reflection on rural America, told from multiple perspectives. After steadfastly guarding her virginity for three decades, cosmopolitan Memphis schoolmarm Laura Chappell agrees to marry a rigid suitor named Henry McAllan, and in 1940 they have their first child. At the end of World War II, Henry drags his bride, their now expanded brood and his sadistic Pappy off to a vile, primitive farm in the backwaters of Mississippi that she names “Mudbound.” Promised an antebellum plantation, Laura finds that Henry has been fleeced and her family is soon living in a bleak, weather-beaten farmhouse lacking running water and electricity. Resigned to an uncomfortable truce, the McAllans stubbornly and meagerly carve out a living on the unforgiving Delta. Their unsteady marriage becomes more complicated with the arrival of Henry’s enigmatic brother Jamie, plagued by his father’s wrath, a drinking problem and the guilt of razing Europe as a bomber pilot. Adding his voice to the narrative is Ronsel Jackson, the son of one of the farm’s tenants, whose heroism as a tank soldier stands for naught against the racism of the hard-drinking, deeply bigoted community. Punctuated by an illicit affair, a gruesome hate crime and finally a quiet, just murder in the night, the book imparts misery upon the wicked—but the innocent suffer as well. “Sometimes it’s necessary to do wrong,” claims Jamie McAllan in the book’s equivocal dénouement. “Sometimes it’s the only way to make things right.”
The perils of country living are brought to light in a confidently executed novel.